BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE
Accountability in matters of security will be brought to the fore again tomorrow when President Muhammadu Buhari addresses a joint session of the National Assembly.
The situation of the country warrants the sombre request from the House of Representatives to which the President has appropriately responded.
It appeared there was a synchrony of purpose as tomorrow’s address was preceded yesterday by a meeting of the President and the governors with security on the agenda.
The governors had met earlier with security as a top item on their agenda. Nothing less should, of course, be expected in the circumstance.
The grave moment in the nation therefore provides a great opportunity for a critical and honest review of things before they degenerate further going by the trends.
That’s why those who initially objected to the invitation of the legislators to the President seemed to have missed the point. Even up till yesterday, some politicians still insisted that the NASS should have sent a delegation to Aso Rock for a “confidential briefing” because security is the subject.
Certainly, no one expects the President to be revealing operational details or intelligence stuffs in his address. Tomorrow’s meeting is, of course, not in the mould of the meeting of the National Security Council.
However, there should be no excuse for those in charge of defence and security not be accountable. At the level of policies and general direction, security is a matter for vigorous discussion and examination. After all, during elections politicians present their agenda on security as contained in their manifestoes. If promises on security could be made publicly, those having the constitutional mandate of ensuring security should also be held accountable publicly.
In mature liberal democracies, defence review is always a matter intense policy debate. Non-military experts and other interest groups are often involved in the process. It was in this tradition that the Nigeria’s National Security Strategy (NSS) was put together. And rightly so. The document prepared by the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) has received some spirited reviews.
In a period of worsening insecurity, all eyes would rightly be on the commander-in-chief. Yes, universally military and security chiefs do not openly discuss their operations for obvious tactical reasons. However, the strategic direction and goals of a nation (especially one that is bedevilled with insecurity of Nigeria’s magnitude) should be a matter of public discourse. The national parliament is therefore a suitable venue. Even countries that are military powers and in which the security questions have a huge external component, the strategic direction and reviews are matters of public interest.
The essence is to determine whether the national purpose is being served.
There is, therefore, no basis for mystifying security and defence when it comes making officials accountable especially in a period of rising insecurity.
The constitution makes security a primary duty of government. It is not asking for too much to hold the government to account on this score.
Members of the public do not have to be privy to technical details to be concerned about the lack of adequate coordination among the 27 defence and security agencies and departments. The Nigerian defence and security systems are notorious for inter-agency mistrust and needless rivalry. Sometimes they engage one another in combat instead of fighting the criminals. It is even more worrisome when disharmony is reported at the highest level.
For instance, recent reports of bandits compelling farmers to pay levies for access to their farms makes the whole security question more urgent. Perhaps, nothing could be more lethal than a combination of food insecurity and physical insecurity. Experts are predicting starvation as the possible fate of millions if the reign of bandits continues unchecked. Now, it it is alleged that some of the bandits are non-Nigerians strolling through the borders armed. Whatever happened to the coordination of the police with SSS, immigration and customs? For it is highly distressing that communities could be so cheaply and routinely invaded by bandits. Were there any intelligence reports on the free movement of the bandits in the markets and farms of the north west or kidnappers and armed robbers in the south? The helplessness of those so brutally attacked cannot be rationalised under any guise by the officialdom. If some of the bandits are foreigners, how did they pass through the “closed” borders with sophisticated weapons? The gory reports are further complicating the matter. What’s happening to the security at the nation’s borders? It is scary to contemplate that some parts of the country could be turned into ungoverned spaces.
The President could address these among other general issues without putting the defence and security system at any risk. After all, the role of the commander-in-chief is to inspire the agencies and boost the public confidence in them to perform the task at hand. The commander-in -chief as the overall coordinator on security should be assuring the public that there is enough coordination among those in charge
So by responding to the invitation from House of Representatives, Buhari is only honouring a time-honoured institution.
It would be helpful if all the institutions are kept alive and the dormant ones are awoken to fulfil their purpose. One of such institutions is the Nigeria Police Council established by the constitution. It is relevant in this situation because the challenge at hand is that of internal security, which is the duty of the police.
Members of the council are the President, who is the chairman; the state governors; the chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC); and the Inspector-General of Police.
The council is responsible for “the organisation and administration” as well as the “general supervision” of the police. This function, of course, excludes operational and management matters of the police. Significantly, the council has the job of “advising the President on the appointment of the Inspector-General of Police.”
So the situation of the governors as chief security officers of their respective states may not be as helpless as it is being generally presented by the governors and perceived by the public. That is if this forum created by the constitution is made to function properly.
Again, it is a matter of accountability. Why has the council not been meeting regularly in view of the huge security tasks assigned to it by the constitution? Meanwhile, no one has offered the public any explanation about the operation (or lack of operation) of the council.
In fact, the council ought to be meeting more frequently at this time so that governors could influence things more in respect of policing. It is not enough for the governors to wring their hands on matters of policing. It is not for nothing that the constitution created the Nigeria Police Council.
The point at issue here is that while the clamour for state police gathers momentum, governors should also look at the openings in the system as it is now to bolster their capacity for governance. The governors should not wait for the constitutional review that could produce state police before optimising the existing institutional resources in tackling rising insecurity.
In other words, yesterday’s meeting should be a routine one on proper policing for the purpose of internal security. It should not be an occasional one at the request of the governors. Intriguingly, the governors even thanked the President for granting their request for the meeting “at a very short notice.”
The governors have a huge responsibility as the immediate authorities to whom the people could turn in matters of security. Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State has been putting himself in the harm’s way to give exemplary leadership in the face of terrorist attacks.
Hence the governors should take it as matter responsibility to look at the limited powers they have in the constitution in respect of police. Policing is so crucial to finding a solution to the problem of insecurity at present. In any case, the governors are not members of the National Security Council. The governors preside over the security councils in their respective states. The heads of defence and security formations and agencies located in the states are members of the security councils.
Doubtless, some of the killings taking place daily the country constitutes a categorical challenge not only to the police, but the whole of the justice sector. Whether the killing is done by bandits, or armed robbers, a credible system should be able to account for every life lost and ensure that justice is done. It is the least expected from a social order with integrity. It would be useful for the various security agencies to draw lessons from the recent round of violence.
The abandonment of the culture of accountability is surely a part of the problem.
Buhari has a good opportunity tomorrow to put accountability on display as he addresses the obvious problem. Lawlessness reigns supreme in the land. Human lives have been reduced to mere statistics. There are headlines about casualties, but there is hardly any report of those arrested and prosecuted for the mass murders of farmers and villagers’ There is, therefore, no basis for mystifying security and defence when it comes making officials accountable especially in a period of rising insecurity in the land.
Public accountability requires that the police should explain to the nation what is being done about mass killings. The true nature of the crisis has hardly been unravelled. Some well informed persons have suggested that some foreign terrorists might have invaded Nigeria. Who are these invaders? How are they armed? What is their mission? These are questions for which the public expects answers from those in charge of security in the spirit of democratic accountability.
In a sense, the President’s meeting with the governors yesterday and tomorrow’s proposed speech at the National Assembly should be the beginning of a new approach to solving the problem. There should be more of such engagements and national coordination in this climate of insecurity.
There is no basis for mystifying security and defence when it comes to making officials accountable especially in a period of rising insecurity